Restoring Mom’s Paintings

My Mom was raised in Terrebonne, Quebec, a place of provincial charm and grace.

It reminds me of a little town trying to push itself into the future while the houses hang onto the past for dear life. Mom walked up the hill to attend Mass every Sunday at St-Louis de France Catholic Church, and painted in her bedroom at 244 Rue Ste. Marie. When she left home to marry my American father, against the advice of her family, Grandma kept her paintings, including the floral behind her that has never been recovered. If anyone knows where it is, it rightfully belongs to me.

Claire Hansen (Charbonneau) with her floral painting
My Mom, Claire Hansen (Charbonneau), in front of her floral painting, circa 1956.
Beatrice and Adrien Charbonneau in front of a painting by their daughter Claire
My maternal grandparents; Beatrice and Adrien Charbonneau, in front of a painting by their daughter (my Mom Claire), circa 1956.

Allan took me to to Cananda so I could see my Mom’s only living relative, her brother Andre, who still lives in that house on Rue Ste-Marie in Quebec. He looks, eats and lives very much as she spent much of her life; solitary, introverted and focused on one thing at a time. He gave me a painting she did when she was 18 years old.  Andre thought I should have it because he plans to sell the house and move into a ‘retirement’ home. When he took it off the wall, the space behind it was much whiter than the smoke-stained walls. It had been hanging in that same spot for 70 years.

Peaches in a Glass Bowl by Claire Charbonneau, 1945

Claire Charbonneau oil painting of peaches in a glass bowl

This painting, plus one of a terra cotta pot with blue drapery that she did shortly before I was born are the only paintings I have from Mom. She never painted again (that I can remember) after I was born. But she took me to painting classes and set up easels in my bedroom and gave me lessons on how to ‘see’ and mix colors. She often talked about painting a great masterpiece with swans and three fountains and birds.

Terra Cotta Pot with Blue Drapery by Claire Hansen (Charbonneau), 1954

Claire Hansen oil painting of terra cotta pot and blue drapery

After all the years and moving and dusty storage the paintings were in sad shape. Not having ever been varnished the paint had an uneven sheen plus smoke discoloration and water spots. There was a big scratch in the blue drapery.  I wanted to restore them, but I’m not an art restorer. So I just washed the paint gently with soapy rags to get all the dust and dirt out, while being careful not to let the backing get wet. I let them dry thoroughly then did a repainting, matching the colors as closely as I could. The subtle gray tones amazed me. Mom painted these from life.

Dad loved that Mom was artistic.To emphasize her heritage he encouraged me with art supplies, art books and frames for my paintings. He sent my hand-painted Christmas cards to his family and hung my college paintings in the dining room.

A light coat of varnish will make them shiny again, like they’d been painted yesterday. They’ve come full circle, touched by the both of us. Someday I’ll pass them to my daughter. She never knew her Grandma, and the paintings will be all she’ll have of her, but I know that will mean a lot to her.